Neil Sperry

Check off these tasks on your gardening to-do list over Labor Day weekend

A great garden in a small space

Jake and Sharyn Schaffer's patio garden in San Luis Obispo makes the most of the small landscaping space.
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Jake and Sharyn Schaffer's patio garden in San Luis Obispo makes the most of the small landscaping space.

It’s all converged at the right time. Somewhat cooler weather. (Everything’s relative.) An extra day off work. (For many of us.) Add ‘em together, and the simple math means you might have a little time to tend to some really important jobs that need to be done this weekend out in your landscape. Read on. I’ll be gentle.

Apply the pre-emergent weedkiller for cool-season grassy weeds

Remember last week right here? We chatted about this. You have a two-week window (the last week of August and the first week of September) to apply Dimension, Halts (WeedEX) or Balan granules to prevent annual bluegrass, rescuegrass and ryegrass before they ever germinate. You’re halfway through that window.

In plain English, you do not get a second chance! Once these weeds germinate and start growing in September you’ll have to look at them all fall, winter and spring. The granules are safe on any type of lawngrass, even beneath trees – just not on grass that was planted this year. It needs to have been through its first winter.

Chinch bugs are still active in St. Augustine

These pests can kill big parts of a beautiful lawn within just days, so if St. Augustine is the grass that you’re growing, you’d better pay attention. These pests are always in sunny spots, often along pavement and frequently in the same places where they broke out last summer. Grass looks dry, but it doesn’t respond to watering.

When you look closely at the surface of the soil you see the BB-sized black and white insects moving freely around the runners. They’ll be most active where the grass is dying but not already dead. Your local nursery or hardware store has several labeled products to control them. Don’t delay. Putting this treatment off could cost you hundreds of dollars of new sod it will take to replant.

Plant new sod soon

If you have bare ground and if you intend to plant new bermuda or zoysia sod, your time is running out. Soils will begin to cool within weeks and the new grass won’t establish nearly as well. This weekend would be a great time to get the job done. Remember that new sod needs to be laid over lightly tilled ground.

Don’t plant it over old turf or hard-packed soil. If you want St. Augustine, it’s a gamble this late in the season. It’s not as winter-hardy as the other two grasses. Finally, if new sod is on your menu, don’t apply pre-emergent granules in those areas where you’ll be planting.

Plant fall-flowering bulbs

It’s last call for planting spider lilies (Lycoris radiata), surprise lilies (Lycoris squamigera), fall crocus (Sternbergia lutea) and oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida). These are four long-proven and dependable fall-blooming bulbs for North Texas gardens. Each should be planted now so that it can become established, perhaps to bloom some this year, but especially to flower in future years.

Watch for sales on nursery stock

Fall is a fabulous time for making major landscape improvements. That’s especially true if you spent time this summer developing plans for the changes. Nurseries begin to make systematic markdowns on merchandise as fall proceeds. The big nursery trade shows just happened and growers put special offers on plants they had in over-abundance.

Alert retailers saw bargains they knew they could sell (and that they knew would do well for their customers), so they booked fall deliveries and are passing those savings on to you and me. But a even better reason for planting in fall is that it gives those new trees and shrubs eight full months to develop new roots before next summer rolls in. So if you didn’t get your plans for redoing your gardens drawn up this summer, do so now. You still have plenty of time.

Pot up containers of color for fall

If the shine has worn off your summer bloomers, re-do for fall. I see nurseries with big 6-inch and 1-gallon pots of bold colors ready to be repotted into show-stopping patio pots for instant zing in your color scheme. Marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, celosias, wax begonias, alternantheras, purple fountaingrass, purpleheart, pentas, firebush, copper plants, ornamental peppers, coleus and more. The list goes on and on. Glorious colors for fall. Pot some up this weekend.

Tidy up perennial gardens and make ready for fall digging and dividing

Many of the other responsibilities I’ve put on our list really must be done in the next few days. This one is more of an ongoing job. You always want your landscape to look fresh and loved. But this time of year things begin to come unraveled as leaves start to fall, flower stalks dry and seedheads dry and pop open.

There’s just a lot to do to keep the place looking maintained. Many of our insect pests overwinter in fallen fruit and foliage, so it’s important that we keep that picked up. Weeds are suppressed by mulch, so apply fresh layers of compost or fresh bark mulch beneath them. Take out the old garden stubble. Check roots for signs of nematodes (knotty swellings on the plants’ roots) or any other abnormalities as you spruce up your spaces.

Make plans for a greenhouse

I’ll write more about this topic another time, but if a greenhouse is on your horizon, this is the time to start laying your plans. You don’t want to rush into it the week of the first freeze. If you’re an avid gardener, nothing will bring you more joy on those dark winter nights.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at www.neilsperry.com and follow him on Facebook.

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